Tuesday, 1 May 2018


Late in January, a writing friend rang. A writing retreat? Untutored time? Just for a weekend? Here was a retreat centre up in the Yorkshire Dales. Two hours drive from home but there was also a train station nearby. Time for writing, talking and walking too if we feel like it? . . . With nice food on offer too. Of course – aside from a quick glance at the bank balance - I said yes. What with one thing and another, I had written few words over the last months so I really needed this promised time. Besides two more writing friends wanted to come as well.

February and March passed and the re-assuring date crept closer. I was barely writing and ashamed and sad about that fact, even though I was busy with a lot of other activities. April arrived, skipped along and all at once the weekend had arrived.

Time to get ready. Time to pack. Time to prepare . . .

Packing a suitcase was the simplest of the tasks: only a few work-comfortable clothes, thank goodness, and a quantity of jumpers to guard against any springtime shivers. Add a few other essentials, barest of make-up, toothbrush with the obligatory pair of almost-empty toothpaste tubes, the silly kitten-faced travel slippers that make me laugh and my trusty hot water bottle. Sturdy, striding footwear and crocs were flung in the boot of the car, as well as my hugest, warmest coat-size writing cardigan which is always a good decision.

Next I gathered up a selection of notebooks and partly-scribbled projects. What about drawing pencils and a pad? And colours and brushes? I might need need to story-map my way out of a problem or revisit some character or setting afresh? My underlying worry was that I might have to draw because I’d been deserted by words.Maybe I might need to fill my writing time-space with reading? Just in case I added James Fenton on English Poetry: a nicely thin but fairly serious book. Or . . . or . . . No, I had enough of the stationery stuff! I dropped the whole collection into one big bag, glad that I was travelling by car.

However, even as I busied myself with these highly visible packing skils, two major preparation worries grumbled and nagged at me in my head.

My first fret was about my change of laptop, or Major Preparation Anxiety One. For ages, while travelling, I carted about a too- heavy, third-hand Cranky Laptop. In a limited way, I did owe the beast it as, it had helped me to untangle a long manuscript on an earlier retreat. Unfortunately, the machine monster could only be kept alive by a constant plug-in power supply, which limited the usefulness of it as a laptop. (I certainly had no idle wandering on shaded balconies with it, or pauses in chatty coffee shops or lazing about on lawns, la la la . . . and all the other things people do in certain computer adverts. )

This time, I would be taking my elegant, lightweight laptop, known as the New Blue, ta-da! Or, in other words, I was going away for the weekend with a stranger: an unknown machine only recently been wrangled into a half-recognisable typing device. I barely knew the new shiny thing at all, not in any practical, fingertip-familiar, get-on-with-the-typing work-rhythm way. Alarm bells kept ringing . . .

Major Preparation Anxiety Two was the worst of all, because it had bothered me since I’d agreed to come, had haunted me while I packed and followed me through all the stone villages and market towns as I drove to the retreat centre, a few miles west of Hawes.

I was, I admit, scared of arriving, of opening up my pathetically-stalled writing project and being unable to work on anything at all: neither technically or mentally or with any hopeful spirit. I was truly afraid that my Words had been squashed to nothing and wiped away by the run of overcrowded time.

But now . . . ssshh! . . . I am here in my little room, warm and cosy, typing this post. It is early Saturday morning and there’s sunlight on the frosted green fields and the sounds of breakfast being prepared downstairs, I have arrived and I am using my shiny New Blue here in bed. I am typing and making quiet writing plans. I am happy at all levels, and quite hopeful at a few. The real retreat has begun . . .

And now it is Sunday, just before coffee. 

Over the last two days, we have worked, walked a couple of times, talked about our work and books and publishing, and made some drawings and photographs too. We’ve also realised that a weekend retreat is more like a pause: an essential still point in life from where to sort out thoughts and plans and ideas going forward, rather than the extensive finish-the-tome, twenty-four hour kind of writing that flickers as a possibility at the start of such a weekend.

I am sitting alone in the light and airy workroom, where the piano and the poetry book collection live. My New Blue laptop is open on the long wooden table and I am writing this post. In a moment, I will go across to the house for coffee and home-made biscuits, and then sink into a sofa by the fire, in case the cat wants to help me with editing some printed-out pages.

But I do have to choose, because the time is going by so fast and soon we’ll be leaving. But perhaps, fingers crossed, the Words I’ve rediscovered will come home with me, and keep the writing going onwards.And the New Blue and I will no longer be strangers, even if we are not yet able to add photos to this post.

Meanwhile, many many thanks to you, my good weekend writing friends. You know who you are.


Lynne Benton said...

Sounds wonderful, Penny. I'm sure the retreat has done great things for your work, and, by the sound of things, for you too. Good luck to you and New Blue (which also sounds wonderful!)

Pippa Goodhart said...

What a wonderfully positive battery re-charge of the best kind. Long may its juice carry your writing forward, Penny!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Lynne and Pippa. It was a good and useful weekend. Wishing both of you good writing energy too!

Steve Gladwin said...

I'm glad that you and the true blue are working and creating happily together, Penny'

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Steve. I hope the New Blue does end up true. I am still at that stage of being pleased with each small technical step, enough to raise hopes that I'll be able to write on the machine in hospitable places for spaces of time, away from the desk and the everyday "To Do" lists.

Andrew Preston said...

Very enjoyable read. New Blue = HP Stream ?